Native American voters, once overlooked, seek role for 2020
WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidates will descend on Iowa this week to do something that Native Americans say doesn’t happen enough: court their vote.
At least seven White House hopefuls have said they’ll attend a forum in Sioux City on Monday and Tuesday named for longtime Native American activist Frank LaMere, who died in June. Tribal leaders and citizens will talk with candidates about issues including health care, education and violence against National American women.
Several candidates attending the forum, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro and Marianne Williamson, have issued platforms dedicated to the needs of indigenous people. Marcella LeBeau, a 99-year-old registered Democrat and a citizen of the Two Kettles Band of the Lakota, said that’s a change from the past when politicians largely overlooked Native American issues.
“We’re like a third-world country,” she said. “No one really listens to us.”
Many Native Americans live in “hard-to-count” rural areas and are not reflected in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, so the census cannot accurately measure their voter registration as it would for black, white, Asian and Hispanic citizens. Census estimates say Native Americans make up around 1.7 percent — or 5.3 million — of the U.S. population, and suggest that more than 3.7 million Native Americans are of voting age.
As more Native Americans gain access to the polls, they may be a powerful asset for candidates. Richard Witmer, a political scientist from Creighton University who specializes in American Indian politics and policy, said the Native American vote can swing a close national election.
“The Native vote is absolutely going to matter. It’s going to matter a lot,” Witmer said of next year’s race.
Candidates rarely court the Native American vote like they do other demographics, noted Nicole Willis, a citizen of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla who lives in Seattle.
“It’s almost like a moral test of a candidate. Like, are you going to pay attention to this group that has traditionally been ignored?” said Willis, who was a Native American outreach adviser to President Barack Obama as well as a 2016 presidential adviser to Sanders.
Warren has had her own problems with the Native American community. After President Donald Trump gave her the nickname “Pocahontas” for her claims of Cherokee citizenship, Warren took a DNA test to try to prove her ancestry. The test did provide some evidence of a Native American in Warren’s lineage, albeit as many as 10 generations back.
But the Cherokee Nation complained that tribal nations, not DNA tests, determine citizenship, and that Warren was “undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.” Warren apologized and will face scrutiny at the forum over how she handles the issue.
Ahead of the event, New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, a citizen of the Laguna Pueblo and one of the first Native Americans in Congress, endorsed Warren for president. And Warren joined with Haaland on Friday to propose legislation that would cordon off funding for tribal priorities from Congress’ unpredictable appropriations process, fulfilling a key recommendation the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights made last year.
Warren also proposed setting up a permanent White House office dedicated to tribal issues and backed more resources for aiding tribal land acquisition, among other ideas to help Native American communities.
Activists say tribal citizens still face barriers to voting that must be addressed.
Many Native Americans live on far-flung reservations without polling centers. Before Four Directions, a group promoting voting rights for Native Americans, sued for satellite offices on Nevada’s Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe reservation in 2016, residents had to drive nearly 100 miles roundtrip just to vote, said Oliver “O.J.” Semans, co-founder of the forum and a citizen of South Dakota’s Rosebud Sioux Tribe.
Voter ID requirements are another hurdle. States such as North Dakota require voters to provide ID and a street address at the polls, so the many rural Natives with only a P.O. Box number have been barred from voting, Semans said.
Just this month, a federal appeals court ruled against members of North Dakota’s Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, who had said such requirements were unconstitutional.
Four Directions has worked in New Mexico, Montana, South Dakota and elsewhere to abolish ID laws, establish voting centers on reservations and give Native Americans on reservations the ability to cast no-excuse absentee ballots, often by suing local governments.
In some areas where Four Directions has made voting more accessible, Native voter turnout has doubled, Semans said.
The swing vote is likely to favor Democrats, who are often seen as more receptive toward the needs of Native American communities on issues like health care, tribal sovereignty and economic development, Witmer said.
The new West: Smoke in the air, a purifier at home
When the Camp fire began to rage in Paradise, Calif., last November, the owners of the family-run Collier Hardware store in nearby Chico faced a situation unlike any they’d seen.
A business that might welcome 200 customers on an average day, Collier was suddenly dealing with five times that number — “and they all wanted the same thing,” co-owner Steve Lucena said.
Alarmed by dense smoke, shoppers were snapping up portable air purifiers and breathing masks in staggering numbers. Collier Hardware sold nearly 60,000 adult-sized masks in a couple of weeks, and gave away thousands more that were specially designed for children.
“With the purifiers, we had multiple people unloading them from the truck, and they were sold before we could get them all the way into the store,” Lucena said. “People didn’t care what model it was or how much it cost. We’d normally sell four to six in a year, and we sold 100 in a day.”
As hot, dry weather settles upon the West this summer, fears of massive wildfires — and the smoke they produce — are again taking hold. It’s true not only in areas directly threatened by fire, but even those hundreds of miles away where people expect to be shrouded in lung-clogging smoke.
The health risks are real, and they’re already part of a future that public-health experts — and those who sell air-quality products — are anticipating.
“We aren’t depending on wildfire season to make a profit, because we don’t hope for another year of fires,” said Joceline Barron, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles-based Rabbit Air, which makes portable purifiers.
“But we know the market does profit from that season,” she said. “When the wildfires were going on, our phones were ringing all the time.”
Sales of portable air purifiers in California alone are expected to rise dramatically over the next few years, from roughly 469,000 units in 2017 to a predicted 720,000 in 2023, according to a study by TechSci Research presented at a recent meeting of the California Air Resources Board.
Across the country, annual sales of home air filters are expected to cross $1 billion by 2023, according to a report by Research and Markets.
“Interest in effective air purification has significantly risen in recent years due to wildfires,” said Jaya Rao, chief operating officer and co-founder of Molekule, a maker of a $799 purifier. Sales of the unit have doubled each year since it debuted in 2017, Rao said.
Researchers from Harvard and Yale in 2016 produced a list of more than 300 counties throughout the West that will be at the greatest risk of dangerous pollution in the coming decades due to “smoke waves” emanating from increasingly intense wildfires. Among the most vulnerable are heavily populated areas such as San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties in Northern California, and King County in Washington.
Wildfire smoke is dangerous because of its concentration of noxious fine particles, which measure 2.5 micrometers or less (a human hair, by comparison, measures 70 micrometers) and which, unlike common dust, can be inhaled into the deepest recesses of the lung.
Cannon could bring salmon back to the Upper Columbia
SPOKANE — Over the weekend, a 2014 video of a salmon being shot through a thin, flexible tube went viral.
Memes appeared imagining what the fish were thinking and feeling as they passed through the Salmon Cannon, as the salmon-propelling tube is known.
But, as internet hot flashes do, the excitement died down and the hordes dissipated, leaving a far more interesting — and important — story behind.
The Salmon Cannon, born in the apple fields of Eastern Washington, is a key component of the Colville Confederated Tribes’ plans to reintroduce salmon to the Upper Columbia River and, eventually, the Spokane River.
Swim, slide and glide
The Salmon Cannon is made by Bellevue-based Whooshh Innovations.
The principal is simple: The tube, which is a proprietary plastic mix and very smooth on the inside, molds to the body of each fish that swims into it. Misters, placed on the outside of the tube, further lubricate the interior with water and allow the fish to breath. Then, an air blower pressurizes the space from below, pushing the salmon up at speeds that can reach 20 mph, much like a pneumatic bank tube.
“From the fish’s perspective, it’s swim in, slide and glide,” said Vincent Bryan III, CEO of Whooshh Innovations.
The system doesn’t hurt the fish and causes them little to no stress, according to multiple studies. In fact, some research indicates that the system saves the salmon so much energy that they are more likely to survive the long swim back to their spawning grounds.
The delicacy of the entire mechanized operation is a reflection of the invention’s birth in the apple industry.
While Bryan grew up in the Seattle area, his family owns orchard land in Eastern Washington. After graduating from law school at Seattle University, Bryan worked in international law and eventually found a job with Adobe in Seattle. But by 2004, he was growing tired of the work and took a sabbatical. During that time, he got more involved in the family business and, spurred partially by immigration-related labor shortages, started to wonder if there were a more “efficient” and mechanized way to pick apples.
To find out, he quit Adobe and started a company that invented machinery that could quickly and gently pick apples from trees. He got millions in seed money from an agriculture manufacturing company and made progress on his apple-picking technology.
But in 2011, he got distracted from his original mission after seeing a helicopter and being told it was carrying salmon over an otherwise impassable dam.
That, he thought at the time, must be expensive. And inefficient.
He’d grown up fishing and had always “been passionate about fish,” so he looked at some of the equipment he’d designed to transport apples and, in particular, at a tube filled with cushioning material and thought, Why not fish?
To test his suspicion that the technology might translate, he went to a fish market in Seattle, bought live tilapia and fed them into a tube originally designed for apples.
“The tilapia seemed happy,” he said.
Like that, Whooshh Innovations was born.
Bryan saw that the technology could help solve one of the thornier barriers to restoring salmon in the Columbia River and to boosting other struggling salmon populations: dams.
Dams, even those with fish ladders, decimate salmon populations, as the fish make long upstream journeys to the spawning beds in which they were born in order to reproduce.
Dams without ladders, like Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee, are 100 percent deadly. Since 1930, when Grand Coulee was built, the salmon runs — once an annual bounty relied upon by native peoples — disappeared almost overnight.
The Salmon Cannon hopes to offer fish a detour, by transporting them up and over the dam.
Churches arm, train in wake of mass shootings
HASLET, Texas — Acrid gun smoke clouded the sunny entrance of a Texas church on a recent Sunday.
Seven men wearing heavy vests and carrying pistols loaded with blanks ran toward the sound of the shots, stopping at the end of a long hallway. As one peeked into the foyer, the “bad guy” raised the muzzle of an AR-15, took aim and squeezed the trigger.
The simulated gunfight at the church in Haslet was part of a niche industry that trains civilians to protect their churches using the techniques and equipment of law enforcement. Rather than a bullet, the rifle fired a laser that hit Stephen Hatherley’s vest — triggering an electric shock the 60-year-old Navy veteran later described as a “tingle.”
The shootings this month killed more than 30 people at an El Paso Walmart and Dayton, Ohio, entertainment district. But gunmen have also targeted houses of worships in recent years, including a church in rural Sutherland Springs, Texas, where more than two dozen people were shot dead in 2017.
The anxiety of one mass shooting after another has led some churches to start training and arming their worshippers with guns. Not all security experts support this approach, but it has gained momentum as congregations across the country grapple with how to secure spaces where welcoming strangers is a religious practice.
“Ten years ago, this industry was not a thing,” said David Riggall, a Texas police officer whose company trains churchgoers to volunteer as security guards. “I mean, sanctuary means a safe place.”
In 1993, Doug Walker said security wasn’t at the fore of his mind when, as a recent Baptist seminary graduate, he founded Fellowship of the Parks church in Fort Worth. But six years later, after a gunman killed seven people and took his own life at another church in the Texas city, the pastor said his thinking changed.
Today, the interdenominational church has four campuses and 3,000 worshippers on an average Sunday, Walker said. It has increased security as it has grown, asking off-duty police to carry weapons at church events. And it recently hired Riggall’s company, Sheepdog Defense Group, to train volunteers in first aid, threat assessment, de-escalation techniques, using a gun and tactical skills, such as clearing rooms during an active shooting.
Walker, 51, said there wasn’t a single event that prompted his church to decide its guards needed more training. But Riggall said that after mass shootings congregations reach out.
“Every time the news comes on and there’s another shooting in a school or church or something like that, the phone starts ringing,” Riggall said.
The 46-year-old police officer said that he and a colleague had the idea for the company after the 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. They started doing firearms trainings with parents and, after Riggall became certified under Texas law to train security guards, transitioned to churches.
The company incorporates Christian teachings into its courses and more than 90 people at 18 churches have completed the 70 hours of initial training and become state-licensed guards through its program, Riggall said. The so-called sheepdogs are insured and technically employed by the company. But they volunteer doing security at their own churches, which in turn pay Riggall.
On a Sunday in July, Brett Faulkner stood with an AR-15 in hand and his back to the cross in the sanctuary of Fellowship of the Parks campus in Haslet, a community about 15 miles north of Fort Worth. He pointed the rifle at a young woman’s back and yelled at the armed men advancing into the room, “I’m going to kill this woman. It’s going to happen right now.”
Faulkner, a 46-year-old information technology worker, already completed a Sheepdog session but came to another church’s to play the bad guy and keep his skills sharp.
“It really just comes down to caring about the people in that building,” Faulkner said of choosing to guard his small Baptist church.
Faulkner said his congregation re-evaluated its security after recent mass shootings and went with Riggall’s company as a cost-effective option.
“This is a good balance between the cost of paying professionals and relying on untrained volunteers,” he said.
Security professionals differ on what balance is right.
New York City subway scare suspect taken into custody
NEW YORK — A man suspected of placing two devices that looked like pressure cookers in a New York City subway station on Friday, causing an evacuation and snarling the morning commute, has been apprehended, police said.
Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea tweeted Saturday morning that a man seen in surveillance video holding one of the objects was taken into custody. Police identified the objects as rice cookers and determined they were not explosives.
Police say the man was located around 12:45 a.m. Saturday in the Bronx and taken to a hospital for treatment and observation. Police did not specify what, if any, injuries or condition he was being treated for.
A West Virginia sheriff’s department identified the man as Larry Kenton Griffin II of Bruno, W.Va., and said he had a criminal history in the state.
The Logan County Sheriff’s Department said it has arrested Griffin, 26, at least three times in the past eight years, including a 2017 arrest on charges alleging he sent obscene material to a minor.
Griffin’s cousin Tara Brumfield told a Huntington, W.Va., television station that he is a good person who has been dealing with mental health issues.
Offering a possible explanation for his involvement with the rice cookers, she said Griffin has a habit of picking up items in one place and putting them down in another.
“Whether it’s tools or a fishing pole or something like that like he’ll pick up one thing and leave it there and then pick up another and then leave it there and I’ve watched him do stuff like that a bunch of times,” she told the station, WSAZ-TV.
It wasn’t immediately known if Griffin had a lawyer representing him in the New York case. No charges have been announced.
New York City police said security cameras captured a man pulling the cookers out of a shopping cart and placing them in the Fulton Street subway station near the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan.
A third cooker of the same make, year and model was found about 2 miles away on a sidewalk in the Chelsea neighborhood, prompting another police investigation.
Police stressed at a news conference on Friday that it wasn’t clear if the man was trying to frighten people or throwing the objects away.
“I would stop very short of calling him a suspect,” said John Miller, the New York Police Department’s top counterterror official.
“It is possible that somebody put out a bunch of items in the trash today and this guy picked them up and then discarded them, or it’s possible that this was an intentional act.”
Police tracked Griffin down about 13 hours after releasing a flyer asking people to help them identify him. Social media posts from the department described him as a person of interest who was wanted for questioning. The Logan County Sheriff’s Department said it assisted an FBI task force by speaking with Griffin’s relatives in hopes of obtaining his possible location.
Dozens of suspicious packages are reported daily in the city, but the proximity of the subway station to the site of the Sept. 11 attacks served to heighten anxiety before police gave the all-clear.
Multiple subway lines were partially suspended during the police investigation, and delays continued throughout the morning.
Many rice cookers look like pressure cookers, which use pressure to cook food quickly — a function that has been used to turn them into bombs.
Pressure cookers packed with explosives killed three people and injured hundreds when a pair of extremists detonated them during the Boston Marathon in 2013.
Advocates see fallout from immigration rule change
CHICAGO — Diabetics skipping regular checkups. Young asthmatics not getting preventive care. A surge in expensive emergency room visits.
Doctors and public health experts warn of poor health and rising costs they say will come from sweeping Trump administration changes that would deny green cards to many immigrants who use Medicaid, as well as food stamps and other forms of public assistance. Some advocates say they’re already seeing the fallout even before the complex 837-page rule takes effect in October.
President Donald Trump’s administration trumpeted its aggressive approach this past week as a way to keep only self-sufficient immigrants in the country, but health experts argue it could force potentially millions of low-income migrants to choose between needed services and their bid to stay legally in the U.S.
“People are going to be sicker. They’re not going to go get health care, or not until they have to go to an emergency room,” said Lisa David, president and CEO of Public Health Solutions, New York’s largest public health organization. “It’s going to cost the system a lot of money.”
Immigrants who want permanent legal status, commonly called a green card, have long been required to prove they won’t be “a public charge.” The Trump administration announced Monday that would redefine the term to mean those who are “more likely than not” to receive public benefits over a certain period. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will also now consider other factors, including income, education and English proficiency.
“We want to see people coming to this country who are self-sufficient,” said Ken Cuccinelli, the agency’s acting director. “That’s a core principle of the American dream. It’s deeply embedded in our history, and particularly our history related to legal immigration.”
Two California counties and attorneys general in 13 states sued, saying the changes will increase public health risks.
There are signs that is already happening in cities including Chicago, Detroit and New York, immigrant advocates say.
Within hours of the announcement, a Minnesota immigration attorney said she received a flurry of calls from worried clients about whether to leave Medicaid. A Detroit nonprofit helping Latinos and immigrants with social services said its usually jam-packed lobby was empty the day after the rules were unveiled. New York’s largest public health organization, which serves a large immigrant population, reported a 20 percent drop in food stamps enrollment since the rule was first proposed in the fall.
There is precedent for such a chilling effect. After 1996 welfare and immigration changes that limited public assistance for some immigrants, the use of benefits dropped steeply among U.S. citizen children and refugees, groups who were still eligible. Studies based on data following that change showed people disenrolled from Medicaid at rates ranging from 15 to 35 percent, according to Harvard University’s Fran?ois-Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights. And, it found, this came at a high cost: Asthma-related school absences in 1996 led to $719 million in lost parental productivity.
Overall, noncitizen low-income immigrants use public benefits at a much lower rate than low-income U.S.-born citizens, but there’s the possibility that millions of people could drop benefits out of fear or confusion. Estimates vary. It could be as high as 24 million people, according to the nonpartisan Fiscal Policy Institute, which includes in its count anyone in a family that has received food, health or housing support and where at least one person is a noncitizen.
NASA selects Alabama’s ‘Rocket City’ for lunar lander job
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA picked Alabama’s “Rocket City” on Friday to lead development of the next moon lander for astronauts.
Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville beat out Johnson Space Center in Houston, which managed the Apollo lunar lander a half-century ago.
The new lunar lander — not yet built or even designed — is meant to carry an American woman and a man to the moon’s south pole by 2024. Under the plan, the astronauts will depart for the surface from a small space station around the moon and return there.
Three Republican members of Congress from Texas — Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, and Rep. Brian Babin — had asked that the decision be reconsidered. Babin, who was on the initial guest list, was missing from the ceremony, held near a rocket test stand at Marshall one month after the 50th anniversary of the first lunar footsteps by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
“‘Houston’ was one of the first words ever uttered on the Moon, and Houston, the city that last sent man to the Moon, should be where the lander that will once again send Americans to the lunar surface is developed,” they said in a statement Thursday.
Marshall is the longtime expert in rocket propulsion. That’s where NASA’s Saturn V moon rockets were developed back in the 1960s. It’s also the base for NASA’s new megarocket, the Space Launch System or SLS, which is supposed to carry up the orbiting lunar station, called Gateway, as well as the lunar lander and other components of the Artemis moon program.
When asked why he chose Marshall, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine explained to reporters that propulsion is a critical element of lunar landers.
“I would argue that when it comes to propulsion, there is no place in the world that is more experienced and better than the Marshall Space Flight Center,” he said.
At the same time, “it is absolutely true that when you think about the module where our astronauts will be, that cannot be done without the Johnson Space Center.”
More than a third of the 360 jobs will be at Marshall. Eighty-seven will be at Johnson and the rest elsewhere.
Beer named for Pacific island nuclear test site draws criticism
HAGATNA, Guam — A Texas-based company is facing criticism for naming a beer after the location of nuclear tests that resulted in the contamination of a Pacific island chain, a report said.
Manhattan Project Beer Company is under scrutiny by Marshall Islanders who were exposed to high levels of radiation by U.S. government research from 1946 to 1958, The Pacific Daily News reported Thursday.
The government and residents of the Republic of the Marshall Islands have objected to the company’s beer named Bikini Atoll, an area of the island chain that remains uninhabitable.
The name is insensitive to people still dealing with the impacts of radiation decades later, islanders said.
The company has several beers with nuclear-themed names including Half-life, Plutonium-239, Particles Collide, and 10 Nanoseconds.
“Our beer named Bikini Atoll was not created to mock or trivialize the nuclear testing that took place in the Marshall Islands,” the company said in a social media post. The company is “creating awareness of the wider impacts and implications” of U.S. nuclear research programs, the statement said.
The company’s website does not mention nuclear testing in a description of Bikini Atoll beer.
Following what it described as “significant harassment and death threats” the company said it will take no further action or make additional statements.
Marshall Islands Health and Human Services Secretary Jack Niedenthal wrote a letter to Manhattan Project Beer co-founder Misty Sanford Thursday saying she should consider the suffering caused by the nuclear testing.
“The bottom line is your product makes fun of a horrific situation here in the Marshall Islands — a situation that I promise you is still ongoing — to make money for your company,” Niedenthal wrote. “This is unacceptable to us.”
The beer is not the first commercial product named after the atoll.
In 1946, French designer Louise Reard named his two-piece swimsuit the bikini, four days after the U.S. detonated the first bomb at the atoll in 1946. The popular animated television series “SpongeBob SquarePants” was set in “Bikini Bottom.”
Ariana Tibon, education and public awareness coordinator for the National Nuclear Commission, told The Associated Press that no one wears bikinis in the Marshall Islands where it goes against customs and culture to show too much skin. She said most people wear basketball shorts and a T-shirt to the beach.
Rachel Hoffman, a Marshallese woman who grew up in Washington, said she was hurt and offended to learn the cartoon’s mutated marine creatures represented Bikini when Marshallese women exposed to the radiation had children with birth defects.
Java still a no for Latter-day Saints despite fancy coffee names
SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has issued a warning to members that coffee is prohibited no matter how fancy the name, that vaping is banned despite the alluring flavors and that marijuana is outlawed unless prescribed by “competent” doctors.
The new guidance in the August issue of a church youth magazine does not include fundamental changes to the religion’s strict health code, but the clarifications are significant and seem to reflect growing concern about young Latter-day Saints’ adherence to the rules.
The article says it aims to clear up issues that could be confusing for young people within the religion’s “Word of Wisdom,” a set of rules about what foods and drinks are good for members and what substances they should avoid.
The rules prohibit alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs and coffee and tea. They are based on what church members believe was a revelation from God to founder Joseph Smith in 1833. The faith’s rejection of coffee has long generated curiosity and more than a few jokes, including a scene in the biting satirical Broadway musical called “The Book of Mormon” where dancing cups of coffee appear in a missionary’s nightmare.
The new instructions about coffee make clear that there’s no gray area allowing coffee-infused drinks and allude to the wide variety that could tempt members of the faith.
Jana Riess, a church member and author, said she was shocked to find that four in 10 active church members under age 51 had drunk coffee during the previous six months in a 2016 survey she conducted for her book, “The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church.”
She also found that younger members are less concerned than older members about obeying the health code, which is one of the ways that makes the religion distinct from many other faiths.
Church leaders have occasionally issued similar clarifications based on changing social norms and eating and drinking habits, Mason said. In 2012, church leaders clarified that the health code did not prevent members from drinking caffeinated soft drinks.
Brandt Malone, a church member from Detroit who hosts the Mormon News Report podcast, said he wishes the section on coffee would have instead provided guidance to young members about how to order and behave in coffee shops, which are a common place for professional work meetings.
“Let’s teach people how to make the proper choices and think for themselves based on the construct of your religious health code,” Malone said.
Malone and Riess both praised the church stance on vaping, which laments the misconception that e-cigarettes contain only flavors.
The passage about marijuana seems to underscore the faith’s desire to carve out a space to allow some members to use medical marijuana, while reiterating that recreational use is prohibited.
Buses return stranded tourists to park entrance after Denali road opens
DENALI NATIONAL PARK, Alaska — Road crews have cleared one lane in Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve, and buses returned about 300 stranded tourists to the park entrance safely.
The tourists became stranded Friday after heavy rains triggered mudslides and caused excess water from a culvert to damage the only road inside the vast park.
Park spokesman Paul Ollig told The Associated Press that all the stranded passengers were back at the park entrance by midnight.
“Our team did an outstanding job responding to multiple debris slides along a pretty remote section of road,” said Erika Jostad, Denali’s chief ranger. “The geohazard team monitored conditions while the road crew was clearing debris. It was a great example of teamwork.”
On Saturday, the park announced that the road will be fully open at 5 a.m. today.
‘A remarkable job’
“Park staff have done a remarkable job responding to this incident and ensuring the safety and comfort of park visitors,” Jostad said. “Folks from all disciplines have come together to safely accomplish this important task.”
Earlier Friday, Denali’s superintendent closed Denali Park Road to all traffic at mile 30.
Similar debris flows led to daylong traffic restrictions last week. Continued heavy rains since kept the road and surrounding tundra saturated with water.
Also on Friday, the Alaska Railroad said in a release that it has halted service north of the park because heavy rainfall had caused erosion below a retaining wall.
Passenger and freight service will be suspended through the area until late Monday at the earliest, the railroad said in a statement.
The railroad added that passengers traveling north to or south from Denali Park on the Alaska Railroad or on an Alaska Railroad provided service through Holland America/Princess or Premier Alaska Tours should expect delays.